Sunday, June 24, 2007

Return of the Tallies

There was a time when Paolo Di Canio, Enrico Annoni, Rino Gattuso, Lorenzo Amoruso, Sergio Porrini, the Bonetti brothers, Fabrizio Ravanelli, Pasquale Bruno and the likes made their living in Scotland. Those were great days for me because there was rarely a game without Italian interest. But, slowly, they disappeared - so imagine my delight to see Massimo Donati signing up for Celtic.

I know of at least one Celtic fan out there hungry for information (and a good steak and a grappa!). So here is the benefit of my not-so-great knowledge of the Italian game. Donati was part of the great Atalanta youth set-up so his technique can be pretty much taken for granted. He also has about 26 Italy Under 21 caps to his name although he never graduated up to the full Nazionale. It would have been a natural progression as he played at Under 16, Under 18 and Under 20 level. Part of that, I think, can be put down to his unsuccessful move to Milan which has since seen him loaned out to Parma, Samp, Torino, Messina before returning to Bergamo.

I have always thought he looked apparently quite cumbersome but was actually deceptively skillful. He must have about 200 Serie A appearances under his belt at the age of 26 so that says he must be doing something right. He doesn't get a lot of goals (about nine in Serie A, I think) and he does pick up the odd booking. So that sounds like a pretty good replacement for Neil Lennon doesn't it?

The only question mark has to be over how he adapts to Scotland but he is a reasonably physically imposing presence so I don't think that should be a problem. Now I hope a few more follow him and we can get back to those good days of an Italian-packed SPL again.

Friday, June 22, 2007

When did we get so good at penalties?

Remember Italia '90? Or USA '94? Or even France '98? They all brought one conclusion for those of an Azzurro persuasion - it was better if we avoided penalties. Yes, we had great players but it was just that they got a bit shaky when it came to a shoot-out situation.

Well, after what I have witnessed in recent times, I think we can put that to rest - at least for now. Maybe leave it to the English. We won a World Cup final on penalties last summer and last night the Azzurrini booked a place at the Olympics next year after a shoot-out.

If you haven't seen the game, watch it here...

You can marvel at how on earth Giuseppe Rossi got sent off. It reminded me of Zola getting sent off against Nigeria. What me? I'm the smallest man on the pitch! And also enjoy Graziano Pelle's audacious "cucchiaio". Not one for the amateur, I can assure you.

I also had the dubious pleasure last night of watching Spezia consign Verona to Serie C. On the one hand, it means a cracking derby for Venezian but, on the other, it is a glorious club sinking to depths it had not seen in more than 50 years. Plus I don't like La Spezia for reasons I would rather not go into...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Hello, I must be going...

What more can you do? You take a club of no-hoper Galacticos and turn them into league winners and what happens? You get replaced by Bernd Schuster!

At least, that seems to be the script for Fabio Capello at Real Madrid. OK, his team did not play great football but by God they had balls - something that had been missing in the Bernabeu since about - his last time on the bench. Still, apparently he and supremo Calderon don't see eye to eye, so there is only going to be one winner.

The intriguing thing to me is how exactly Schuster is going to change things. Having watched his Getafe side a few times they seem just as dirty as he was as a player. Not convinced that will be a great upgrade from Don Fabio. Still, it does leave the intriguing prospect of Capello on the loose. Maybe he will finally get the job in England he has always craved...

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Interesting times

Three points to make as succinctly as possible...

1) The Azzurrini are done for. You can kid yourself if you like but Serbia will lose to England meaning we go out. The last set of results were just about the worst possible for our young boys. Shame.

2) Don Fabio - like him or not - will write himself into the record books if he wins La Liga on Sunday night. Is there a more successful Coach with more sides in the modern era? Maybe only Trapattoni could answer that.

3) The Stevens Report - Finger pointed at lots of agents, a couple of managers but, amazingly, none of the clubs. There is a grimy underworld of bungs out there but what will the punishment be? My bet is absolutely nothing for any of the teams involved.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Azzurrini 0-1 Serbia

After all the joy, I suppose, there had to be a little pain. Not the excruciating pain of elimination but still the pangs of an opening game defeat. The boys controlled a lot of the play but in the end they left themselves open to a wonderful low strike. I wish Yugoslavia had stayed as one nation, because all its offspring seem to cause us a lot of trouble...

The performance was not bad against Serbia but I think there is a case for saying we played too many creative players and possibly in positions where they were unable to give their best. Montolivo was only seen sporadically and the same for Rosina - both matchwinners on their day. Aquilani was a bit anonymous and Palladino missed our best chances. Pazzini was well marshalled by the Serbian defence but was crying out for a bit of support. On the upside, the defence looked solid.

If I was in charge, I would be tempted to drop the tougher Dessena into midfield in place of Aquilani which might free up Montolivo and Nocerino for more imaginative duties. Giuseppe Rossi looked like he was crying out for a start too - maybe in place of Palladino? Then either he or Rosina could support Pazzini more closely. I love the Viola front man but he is not Luca Toni and can't lead the line on his own. He is better attacking defences from a bit further out rather than always getting the ball with his back to goal.

There is plenty of quality there - we just need to make sure we give it the chance to express itself!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Dance in your pants!

It was one of those special Sundays that, I like to think, only Italy can provide. Two great names of Italian football - Napoli and Genoa - won promotion back to Serie A. It was the manner in which they did so that was so typical of the country.

Under the mildly bizarre rules of Serie B this season Napoli knew they were promoted with either a win or a draw. Genoa, however, playing at home in front of a packed Marassi knew they needed to win or hope that Piacenza failed to do so. Only if both sides finished ten points clear of the fourth place team would there be no need for a play-off game. So far, so complicated.

The news which Genoa dreaded eventually came through, however. Piacenza were a goal to the good while the Genoa-Napoli game remained locked at 0-0. It was when Triestina grabbed an equaliser at Piacenza that the typically Italian funny business started. First of all, it looked to all the world like two players on opposite sides - Sosa of Napoli and Galeoto of Genoa - hugged one another when they heard the score. Then all the players seemed more intent on listening out for the result from Piacenza than affecting their own score. The final whistle eventually confirmed the score from the Garilli, meaning both Genoa and Napoli were promoted. The pitch was invaded, the players hurled their shirts and shorts into the crowd. It was festa all round.

"Excuse me," pointed out the referee at this stage. "The game's not actually finished here!"

So it was back into the dressing rooms to try to retrieve some strips, the stewards ushered the fans off the pitch and a couple of minutes of the most meaningless football ever were played out before the party could begin. Only in Italy, I believe, only in Italy....

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

E adesso, Forza Azzurrini

With the job of getting six points out of the way against Faroe Islands (bit of a sweat at the end) and Lithuania (Grazie Quaglia-gol), it is time to focus on more pressing matters - the Under 21 European Nations. Now, those of you who have had your fill of football were probably looking forward to a peaceful summer but no such luck!

The Azzurrini have the strongest record in this competition in the whole of Europe and it would cap an amazing 12 months (World Cup and Champions League residing in Italy) if they could take the title again. The competition is in Holland this year and the young boys face some tricky opposition. Their group contains, if memory serves, Serbia, England and Czech Republic.

The first game is on Monday and there is little doubt this is just as talented a squad as has won it in the past. There may be some reservations about the experience of coach Gigi Casiraghi but he has the tools at his disposal to win the cup. Selfishly, I am looking forward to seeing Riccardo Montolivo in action. He has been one of the best players to watch in a purple shirt this season. I hope he can carry it on for a few more weeks. God, you get greedy for trophies, don't you?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Tinkerman, stinkerman...

It would appear that one of football's most likeable fellows has turned to the dark side. The amiable, almost loveable, Claudio Ranieri is to be manager of Juventus. The question is, how are we going to manage to hate him?

Throughout his time at Fiorentina, Chelsea, Parma and the rest he remained one of the nicest chaps in the game. He was eloquent, self-deprecating and humourous. In short, everything you would not expect of a Bianconero.

The question has to be asked, have the Juventini turned over a new leaf? Or will they convert him to their ways? Will we soon find a new curt, arrogant and short-tempered Claudio? Surely not. Nonetheless, it is an interesting clash of cultures as the "Stile Juve" goes up against the Tinkerman. Who will come out on top?

I'm not going to mention the Faroe Islands.